Some people swim with dolphins, and I hear the act has even brought people to tears. But I swim with bears. Two black bears who find me on the shore. When they approach, I understand what they are telling me, though their mouths do not move. No sound passes between us, but we all comprehend one another. I am lonely and lost and my heart is in pain, and the bears tell me that everything will be okay. They say that I am not alone. I know they are telling me the truth, and I go with them.
They lead me into the water. I follow them, and we go farther and farther into the ocean. When I look back and see that the sand is merely a speck against waves, I worry. I tell them, in our telepathic language, that I cannot breathe underwater. Trust us, they say. I do.
The bears are twice my size, three times my size. They are gigantic and safe. Under water, salt does not hurt my eyes. I can see clearly, more clearly than when they found me. Neon fish glow. Plants are plump and healthy. The bears take me to a cave where there are more black bears. Families of enormous bears. They are expecting me. They greet me. They feed me. I have been hungry and unloved. They love me. They ask me to stay with them.
I tell them I cannot. That I must live on land. That I won’t be able to breathe here forever. They understand. They say they will still always protect me, and I know it is the truth. Our lips still never move. Our throats never produce a sound. The bears guide me through the ocean again, back toward the shore. I am tired, and I hold one of them, hug his furry back like it is my security blanket.
Because I no longer have to swim, because the bears are swimming for me, I take in the ocean world. It is opulent and nourishing. I am sad, immensely sad to leave this place. That I cannot let it become my home. The bears understand. Each time we communicate, I feel my heart grow, feel it warm my body from within. The water is not cold, but it is crisp like a breeze against my skin in the spring. My eyes are open. The salt does not burn. The bears are my friends.
When we reach the shore, when we are no longer submerged, I see a tent community. Men and women and children inhabiting the beach as if there is nowhere else in the world they belong. They see the bears, and people gather. They leave their labors – hanging clothes to dry on clothes lines, gutting fish. I notice the blues and greens and browns of their irises, colors alive like the colors of fish under water. Their pupils expand, and happy creases form at the corners of their eyes. They are smiling. They have all been saved by the bears before. They are also protected by the bears.
Little gritty, salty children embrace my legs. They are happy for my arrival. Their hair is sunny blond highlights. Their skin is dark brown sugar. They have lived on this beach forever. They cannot remember a time when their parents were alone, unloved, lost, as sick as I have been. The parents tell me this truth with their eyes, like a secret the children needn't know. The children think the bears are their uncles. Their favorite uncles. The bears are lifting them off of my legs and into the air. Sand grains are on the children and caught in on the bears' fur.
I know that I will be mute for a long time. I am going to live on the beach in this tent community, where we are all mute. Where so much is unspoken. Where the children are silent and happy, and the parents are saved and content. They are at peace, and I need to be at peace. The children are no less lively without words. Our eyes say a lot. Our hearts speak the only necessary language. Mine heart burns now.
It burns. The bears feel it burning, and they tell me I must not be sad. They say they will come back when the time is right. They say that I can stay on this shore for as long as I need to. It could be forever, and that would be okay. They will live in the ocean and love me still.
I watch them leave. The bears move slow. Their bodies are thick. They cast a shadow onto the sand. Their hair is in wet clumps and mats. It is long, and when they touch the water again, as their bodies lower, hair loosens over the water. The waves unravel it, and I see it float like silk threads until the bears are lower and lower and they are under water, swimming away and below, back to their caves.
SONG: Summertime, Miles Davis